© Image by Caroline Forbes

James Berry - Children's Poems

(b. 1924)

"I am just this one./Nobody else makes the words/I shape with sound, when I talk." - 'One', James Berry

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Recordings

These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Extras

  • Interview with James Berry - Children's Poems
    Distinguished poet, James Berry, often returns to his Jamaican childhood for the sound and subject matter of his poems. In this interview he describes these early influences and how he shapes them into finished pieces.
    View all interviews
  • The Carribean Poetry Project
    This pioneering collaboration between the Cambridge University Faculty of Education, the Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the West Indies aims to help teachers develop their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of Caribbean poetry, and to extend knowledge, understanding and creative engagement with Caribbean poetry among secondary-school students.

Select bibliography

  • A Thief in the Village (stories for children), London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987
  • The Girls and Yanga Marshall: four stories (for children), London, Longman, 1987
  • When I Dance (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1988 - out of print
  • Anancy Spiderman (for children), London, Walker Books, 1988 - out of print
  • Isn't My Name Magical? (for children), Longman/BBC, 1990 - out of print
  • The Future-Telling Lady (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1991 - out of print
  • Ajeemah and His Son (for children), USA, Harper Collins, 1992
  • Celebration Song (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1994
  • Classic Poems to Read Aloud (editor), London, Kingfisher, 1995
  • Playing a Dazzler (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1996 - out of print
  • Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (for children), USA, Simon and Schuster, 1996
  • Everywhere Faces Everywhere (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • First Palm Trees (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Around the World in 80 Poems (editor - for children), London, Macmillan, 2001
  • A Nest full of Stars (for children), Macmillan, 2002
  • Only One of Me (selected poems - for children), Macmillan, 2004
  • James Berry Reading from his poems for children, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
    Buy
James Berry's poems take you back to the noises, sights and smells of his Jamaican childhood. James was born in 1924 in a small village surrounded by fields and fruit trees. Through his writing James shares his experience of this exciting world, where he ate "young jelly-coconut" ('Childhood Tracks') and where humble hens' eggs became "a mighty nest full of stars" ('A Nest Full of Stars). As he says in one poem "Isn't it all magic?" ('Isn't My Name Magical').

His poems also celebrate what he calls the 'Everyday Music' of village life - the sounds of birds and farmyard animals, the wind and rain of tropical storms, the laughter of family and friends and, above all, the songs and stories he heard all around him. This musical tradition is very important in Jamaican culture so it's not surprising that the sound of words is central to James's poems. Listen for the way he uses repeated lines like the chorus in a song, or the strong rhythms and rhymes that can help you learn his poems by heart. James also uses the Jamaican accent and dialect to bring his poems to life - find out what a "duppy" is and why you should be frightened of one, or what you're missing if you're a "No-Toot". When he reads, James can change his voice to become whoever or whatever is speaking the poem - his mother, a baby, a brother who's scared of his sister's muscles, even a guinea pig!

But James also speaks about difficult subjects, particularly the racism he's seen in Jamaica, the USA, and the UK where he's lived for many years now. In one touching poem he talks to Josie, a nine-year-old he taught in school who wrote to him about the bullying she was suffering. James comforts her, saying it's 'Okay, Brown Girl, Okay'. In the poem he imagines a world where everyone can "grow brightly" whatever their skin colour. Finally, James Berry's many books of poetry and stories, for both adults and children, focus on the joy of living; as he says in his poem 'When I Dance' "I celebrate all rhythms".

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 26 April 2004 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Prizes

1981 National Poetry Competition (winner)
Website

1987 Smarties Grand Prix Award, A Thief in the Village
Website

1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance
Website

1991 Cholmondeley Award
Website

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